X-Men: Dark Phoenix 2019 ***

Dark-Phoenix-Poster-X-Men-Day-Details‘Nobody cares anymore’ says a glum Magneto (Michael Fassbender) in writer/director Simon Kinberg’s latest and potentially last instalment of the X-Men saga of comic book adaptations. With big names like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellern and Hugh Jackman not even bothering with cameos anymore, and Jennifer Lawrence barely featuring, the remaining cast are the ones who haven’t got anything better to do; Dark Phoenix’s ensemble feels like a reserve squad. Still, that threadbare quality can be a virtue, and Kinberg’s film certainly rattles along at a brisk pace as the X-Men square up to some galactic force which has ensnared a space shuttle, and return to earth only to find that Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is not herself. A brawl sets Jean on the run from the other X-Men, and into the realm of Magneto, but there’s a group of aliens led by Jessica Chastain in hot pursuit. Who these aliens are or what they want is never explained; the set pieces are the thing, including a Central Park punch-up and some shenanigans on and around a speeding train. It all moves at a fair clip, but the carelessness with character and continuity will not appeal to fan-boys. When a minor character says ‘My kid used to like you’ to the X-Men, his disgruntlement makes him an ideal audience surrogate; despite evident effort to pump some charge into the franchise, a hot mess is still just a mess.

Joy 2016 ****

jennifer-lawrence-joy-un-opportunita-straordinaria-per-un-attrice-v2-245312David O Russell may have found a place in mainstream cinema, but he’s a subversive deep down; who else would make a biopic about the inventor of a mop? And not just any mop, and not just any inventor; Joy Mangano promoted her own quick rinse mop on QVC, and the trials and tribulations she encountered make for an offbeat, ingenious watch. Jennifer Lawrence provides an empathetic centre; it’s notable that even when her American Hustle co-star Bradley Cooper turns up as a QVC exec, Joy never attempts to slide into rom-com sentiment. Joy Mangano is portrayed as in independent, headstrong woman who beats the system and wins the day on her own terms. And by treating the backstage goings-on of QVC as seriously as Martin Scorsese treats the day-to-day activities of the Mafia, Joy subverts ideas about what a bio-pic should be and comes up with something fresh and original.

American Hustle 2013 *****

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What The Sting was to the 70’s David O Russell’s American Hustle is to the 21st century; a delightful period throwback depicting the colourful lives of hustlers pulling elaborate cons on each other with style. Everyone involved seems to be having fun; Christian Bale done a toupee and expands his girth as Irving, a low-rent con artist who gets ideas above his station when he hooks up with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams); their ability to shed their personalities for the good of the con is beautifully marked down when they canoodle in a dry-cleaners as a parade of different outfits fly by. FBI agent Richie De Maso (Bradley Cooper) steps in to involve them with the Abscam scheme, in which a fake Sheik is uses to entrap local politicians including Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), and American Hustle makes a great job of keeping the audience guessing who is fooling who. The minor characters are a joy, with Louis CK, Michael Pena and Jennifer Lawrence all in explosive form; the Oscars may not be big on comedy, but for pure entertainment value, American Hustle was the best film of 2013.

Winter’s Bone 2010 ***

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A pre Hunger Games and American Hustle Jennifer Lawrence displayed her acting chops in this terse backwoods thriller, in which she plays Ree, a young woman who is forced to trawl through the darker denizens of the Ozark mountain criminal fraternity in a bid to find her missing father. Writer/director Debra Granik captures the sights and sounds of Ree’s journey with observational skill and a sense of dread, with John Hawkes excellent as always as Teardrop, a crystal meth victim to offers ambiguous help to Ree in her quest. Like a Coen Brothers movie but without the oddball twists, Winter’s Bone builds to a startling revelation, and if the final scenes are a little too pat, Lawrence displays all the star-quality that would lead her to the top of the Hollywood tree.